Like many other busy career-orientated people, I don’t have time to be ill!  I can’t afford the time it’s likely to take to get a diagnosis, the time to wait for treatment or surgery, nor the time to recuperate afterwards. No, absolutely not. If you’re running your own business or climbing the corporate ladder it’s fair to say that your health is your wealth. And let’s not overlook busy stay-at-home mums: if they become ill, the smooth management of the kids and household will simply grind to a halt.

However we all get ill sometimes and may require surgical intervention or specialised treatment at some point, but waiting times on the NHS can be as long as 18 weeks. There is no way I could wait that long – and then face the possibility the treatment could be cancelled at the last minute.

I’m fit and well at the moment, but it won’t always be that way. I need to insure not only my health, but my livelihood, too. So this got me thinking… I wonder whether private health insurance is worth it – or is it a pricey add-on I could do without?

Say What?!

Let’s take a look at the stats. Do you know how many people in the UK have private health insurance? It’s roughly 10.5% of the population, so just under 4 million people. Yet around half the UK adult population has life insurance. Clearly people are more concerned with their death than keeping healthy when alive!

You insure important assets in your life such as your car and house, so why not insure your most important asset of all – your health? You need to look after yourself so that you can look after everything (and everyone) else.

This is where private health insurance can be a literal life-saver, and is beneficial for people who are accustomed to the finer things in life.

What Is Private Health Insurance?

Private health insurance (also known as medical insurance) can cover all aspects from diagnosis to treatment (if you opt for a comprehensive plan), or can be combined with what’s already available on the NHS (if you opt for a basic plan). Some lucky employees have health insurance as part of their employee benefits package. However, those that don’t can set up their own insurance plan and pay monthly premiums.

What Does It Offer?

Depending on the insurance cover you opt for, it:

  • Pays most (if not all) of your medical bills if you receive treatment privately.
  • Offers a choice in the level of care you receive and how and when it is provided.

What’s Covered?

All types of insurance offer different levels of cover and private health insurance is no different.

For instance, basic private medical insurance will normally cover the costs of in-patient treatments, including tests and surgery including day-care surgery.

Invest in a more comprehensive policy, and you’ll be covered for out-patient treatments requiring the expertise of specialists and consultants, and some even pay out an amount for each overnight stay in an NHS hospital.

Take Bupa’s Comprehensive Insurance, for example. This policy offers Bupa’s greatest cover which includes:

  • cover for investigations, scans and consultations necessary to ascertain the problem and reach a diagnosis using blood tests, CT, MRI and PET scans.
  • cover for any treatment you might need as a result of the diagnosis – from out-patient treatments like physiotherapy through to in-patient surgery.

Bupa also offers another, more affordable policy called Treatment and Care where you’d be diagnosed by the NHS but go on to have treatment privately. It’s important to note that this policy doesn’t cover most pre and post-treatment diagnosis and testing, hence the cheaper premiums.

What’s Not Covered

In most cases, private healthcare insurance won’t cover treatment for:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Injuries sustained through dangerous sports
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Cosmetic surgery to boost appearance
  • Organ transplants
  • Chronic illnesses such as those associated with HIV / AIDs, epilepsy, hypertension and diabetes (note that even if you are diagnosed with a “chronic” illness after you take out the policy, it still won’t be covered under the policy).

Advantages Of Private Health Insurance

There are differences in levels of cover but generally the main advantages are:

  • Provision of Specialist referrals: Once you’ve been to see your NHS GP, you can request a referral to an expert or specialist working in a private capacity should you want a second opinion or specialist treatment.
  • Shorter waiting times: This is the reason why many people opt for private health insurance: the shorter waiting times for treatment, compared with NHS.
  • You have more choice: In most cases, you can choose the surgeon and the hospital you stay in, which isn’t possible in the NHS.
  • Further scans: If you’ve been declined a scan by the NHS or there are delays, private health insurance will usually cover the price of your scan.
  • Access to specialist drugs and treatments:  There are some specialist drugs and treatments that aren’t available on the NHS because they’re very expensive. Private health insurance will usually cover the cost of these drugs and treatments.
  • Speedier physiotherapy:  You’ll get physiotherapy sessions quicker than you would with insurance than through the NHS.

It’s just a lot nicer, to be frank: No one wants to be in hospital, but if you have to be there, you might as well have a bit of luxury. Private healthcare is great for those who are accustomed to the finer things and don’t want to compromise with their healthcare setting or the treatment they receive. You’ll get a private room so won’t have to stay on a ward.

The Disadvantages

  • It’s costly– and the price will increase: Bought By Many researched their ‘typical buyer’ (a healthy 33 year old, living in the South East) and ran their details by the four largest UK health insurers – Aviva, AXA, Bupa and Vitality. Prices came back between £23 and £35 a month, so around £276 and £420 per year. However, prices will rise each year, with age or possibly if you have made any claims. Also, to give you an idea about a family premium, (two adults in their 40s and two children under 10), this can vary widely – from £700 to £1,650 per year.
  • It’s possible you’ll be seen sooner with the NHS: People with serious illnesses such as heart disease or cancer receive priority NHS treatment.

Pre-existing and chronic illnesses aren’t normally covered: diabetes and cancer, for example, as they’re deemed as chronic, will not usually covered by private health insurance policies, and neither are illnesses that are pre-existing to you taking out the policy.

How To Get The Best Price

Check comparison sites such as Moneysupermarket and GoCompare to get a benchmark quote – then contact a broker to see if they can offer a better one.

Make sure the broker is a member of the Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries, which is the trade association for independent medical insurance advisers.

So Is Private Health Insurance Worth It?

For the average, healthy thirty-something, paying a premium equivalent to a monthly manicure or phone contract is no big deal – and what you get for your money is pretty impressive if you do need to use your insurance.  Just remember, the premiums will increase with age, so do be prepared to shell out a little more each year.

Insurance will be of great value if you require specialist and expensive treatment, but not so if you develop a chronic illness where a policy may cover you for investigations into the diagnosis, but if you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness, then you won’t be covered for its treatment.

So, yes, there are some exclusions to every policy, but for those, (for now) we still have the NHS to call on.

But if your time and being comfortable in your surrounding are exceedingly important to you, then taking out a private health insurance policy is a no-brainer.

Remember, you’re not only insuring your health, you’re insuring your wealth.

About the Author

My name is Natalie Blackburn and I’m a busy 36 year-old mum of two under five. I am from, and still live, in the vibrant city of Manchester. Since entering into my thirties and becoming a parent, I developed an interest in good financial planning, and coupled with my passion for writing, I have lovingly created the blog that you read on Sophisticated Savers.

Other interests of mine include reading (autobiographies are a particular favourite) and running (but only if I am pushed to, so I wouldn’t really call it an interest, but just wanted to sound as though I was quite fit!) and yoga (that is a real interest!). Wine and chocolate are also my real interests, and the occasional travel when I have the time.